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Politics Enter now to win a trip to see Trudeau in D.C. — no donation required

It's the Justin Trudeau sweepstakes. The Prime Minister is heading to Washington for a big, important meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. And if you act now, you could win a trip to see him in D.C.

That's not just one, but two – two! – fabulous events in Washington, one where Mr. Trudeau will be giving a speech. Just donate to the Liberal Party, and enter the lottery.

It's not the first time that the Liberals have dangled Mr. Trudeau as bait for donations. They did it when he was a mere third-party leader, but one with a celebrity status that drew in eager supporters who'd love a little time with Justin.

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What's a little odd, at least in the Canadian political world, is that it's still the party's tactic now that he's Prime Minister Trudeau. In this case, the prize is also a trip with a value of up to $5,000.

Mr. Trudeau heads to Washington next week for a state dinner with Mr. Obama, an event being billed as not only a rare honour and a moment of ceremonial pomp, but an important opportunity to advance the Canada-U.S. relationship.

That's the way the Liberal contest promotion sells it: "After ten years of bluster and neglect from the Conservatives, this is our chance to renew our relationship with the United States to make the economy work for Canada's middle class …" one promotional e-mail states. Donate, it urges, then enter to win a trip to Washington to be there.

The Liberals, as it happens, have had some trouble with win-a-date sweepstakes. They cancelled one in December that offered a shot at dinner with Finance Minister Bill Morneau, because it smacked of a lottery for ministerial access.

But the truth is that a sweepstakes isn't nearly as blatant a pay-to-meet event as the dinners and cocktails that have long been a staple of Canadian political fundraising, where the guest of honour is typically a minister and tickets are sold for perhaps $250 or $1,000. Parties also offer loyalty programs with perks – the Liberals have the Laurier Club for larger donors.

Still, it's new for a Canadian PM. The contest idea was borrowed from Mr. Obama's machine, which broke new ground in digital political fundraising. The NDP has offered dinner with Tom Mulcair. In opposition, the Liberals ran contests to meet Mr. Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede, for example. But Mr. Trudeau is Prime Minister now, and the promotional pitch is to be there for history.

"To be in the same city as the Prime Minister when he is there at a historic time – it's an opportunity," said Christina Topp, the acting national director of the Liberal Party.

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The Washington fundraiser comes with a bunch of caveats. The promotional material makes it seem a bit like you could win two days in D.C. with Justin Trudeau while he's hobnobbing with the President. But the contest doesn't really offer that – and the Liberals deliberately made some distinctions.

For one thing, the Liberals are quick to note the winner of the trip for two doesn't get to go to the state functions with President Obama. They will attend two events organized by Canada2020, which bills itself as "Canada's leading independent, progressive think tank," but also has extensive Liberal connections, including that its president, Tom Pitfield, is a close friend of Mr. Trudeau and husband of Liberal Party president Anna Gainey.

Mr. Trudeau will speak at one of those Canada2020 events, but the Liberals note the contest doesn't guarantee the winner gets to meet him. (Though of course they probably will.)

And a donation to the Liberals isn't required to enter the contest at all, though that fact is left to the smaller print. Most contests in Canada allow people to enter without paying or buying anything, to get around gambling laws. And in this case, the Liberals might not be allowed to issue tax receipts if it seemed the donor was really buying a sweepstakes ticket. But the point of the promotion is fundraising, in a world where fundraisers clamour for attention.

But it's a strange twist on prime ministerial history, the first time a Canadian PM has been invited to a state dinner since 1997: Enter now and win prizes.

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